Baseball

For the 37th time, Texas is heading to the College World Series

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Eighteen baseball programs have reached double-digit men’s College World Series since its inception in 1947. Some of the country’s most storied programs, including USC, Arizona State, Florida State, and Miami, are on that list of teams with 10 or more appearances. Most of the teams in that prestigious club have won a title or two.

But in terms of sheer volume of appearances, there is no competition for the top spot. The Texas Longhorns lead the way, and with Sunday’s 12-4 win over South Florida to win the Austin super regional, they pull further away from the pack with their 37th appearance.

As it typically does, the road to Omaha went through Austin. The Big 12 regular season champions marched through the Austin regional, winning three games and scoring double-digit runs in each contest. In the super regional round against USF, who emerged as a four-seed from the Gainesville regional, Texas walked off in game one with an Eric Kennedy double and took game two with relative comfort after Cam Williams smashed a two-run home run to center in the seventh.

This trip to Omaha is Texas’ first since 2018 and the 10th this century. It is the second trip to the final eight under head coach David Pierce, and his sixth as either an assistant or a head coach. Pierce joins his three predecessors, Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson, and Augie Garrido, with multiple trips to the College World Series as head coach of the Longhorns.

Texas will head to TD Ameritrade Park as the top remaining seed in the NCAA tournament after No. 1 Arkansas failed to advance from the Fayetteville super regional. The Razorbacks fell to North Carolina State in game three after taking game one 21-2.

The Longhorns match up with the winner of game three of the Starkville super regional between Mississippi State and Notre Dame.

This run to Omaha was built in part on the classic Texas style of good pitching and defense, with No. 1 Ty Madden and No. 2 Tristan Stevens both receiving first-team All-Big 12 honors. Pete Hansen emerged late in the year as an ace-quality pitcher as a No. 3, and Tanner Witt, Aaron Nixon, and Cole Quintanilla provided valuable innings out of the bullpen throughout the year.

Trey Faltine paced a tremendous defense that posted a fielding percentage right at .980 over the course of the season. Silas Ardoin provided an excellent presence behind the plate throwing out 16 of 24 baserunners.

Texas added a multiple offense that included good power to become one of the nation’s best squads. Leadoff man Mike Antico stole 39 bases on the season after a slow start during out-of-conference play. Freshman Mitchell Daly hit .321 in his opening campaign and moved up the lineup throughout the course of the year. Williams, Zach Zubia, and Ivan Melendez each hit 10+ home runs, providing a power streak not typically seen from Texas teams.

Even after senior Austin Todd went down for the season with a shoulder injury, Texas continued to play well. Douglas Hodo III stepped in for the senior and provided comparable speed and defense in right field. He was often bunting toward the bottom of the lineup, but he bunted well.

The completeness of this Texas team is a stark contrast to the team that followed UT’s most recent Omaha appearance. After reaching the final eight in 2018, Texas failed to make the postseason in 2019.

Pierce shuffled his staff after the 27-27, parting ways with pitching coach Phil Haig, switching Sean Allen to pitching coach, and bringing in former MLB All-Star Troy Tulowitzki as volunteer assistant. The impact of the moves were seen briefly in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season after 17 games.

But following the 0-3 start versus three SEC teams to begin the year in Arlington, Texas went on a run. They were successful during March, including a sweep of then No. 12 South Carolina, but the real test would come in the month of April.

The Longhorns ended March on a sour note, losing to Texas A&M in College Station on March 30. They began April with a 16-game winning streak, winning three conference series.

They dropped their only Big 12 series of the year at home versus Texas Tech, prompting Pierce to switch Hansen to the No. 3 starter. The move paid off as Texas took two of three from No. 3 TCU on the road, then took two of three from WVU while TCU dropped two of three to K-State to earn a share of the Big 12 title.

And after bowing out of the Big 12 tournament, Texas didn’t lose another game on the way to their 37th College World Series appearance.

Texas is where it expects to be once again. There was no dogpile at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in celebration, as the Longhorns reserve that move for winning national championships. Texas will seek to earn its seventh, which would place it second all time behind USC.

The road to Omaha ran through Austin once again, for a record-breaking 37th time.